Nolan Musselwhite '20
Why do we study the works of authors long dead, examine the histories of nations long fallen, and learn the languages of civilizations long vanished?
There are those who say we shouldn’t; in a modern and evolving society, they say, we ought to look forward, to equip our students with the tools that will allow them to succeed in a technological world: programming, applied sciences, engineering, digital-age mathematics. But, in gazing forward, it is all too easy to forget the past.
Though thousands of years distant, countless aspects of the cultures and languages of Ancient Greece and Rome are deeply imbued in our nation today; in our government, our language, and even our mathematics abound remnants of these early civilizations, serving in their own right as monuments to the societies that shaped the world as we know it. By studying those same societies, we allow ourselves to attain a deeper understanding of our modern world; instead of just understanding the what of life, we can become awakened to the how and the why. Additionally, though we like to call Latin and Ancient Greek “dead languages,” they are actually more alive than ever; look no further than the fields of medicine or law to find derivatives and phrases aplenty. While not only helping one to improve their proficiency in these fields—some doctors and med school students study Ancient Greek, for example—they can also help one to understand the origins of these fields; many of our legal and medical practices today derive from the practices of the ancient Romans and Greeks.
Studying classics can also yield deeper insight in the study of history, as any who pursue both interests can attest. Military history, in particular, is especially central to classical history; until the dawn of modern warfare, the tactics and campaigns of Julius Caesar and other like Romans and Greeks were (and, to some extent, still are) seen as gold standards in military strategy and combat. Without a classical background, a military history aficionado would be lacking in a core aspect of their specialty.
Of course, studying the classics isn’t essential (or even necessary) in all circumstances, and isn’t ideal for every student. However, to anyone interested in and enthusiastic about classical societies, languages, and histories, studying classics can provide a fruitful opportunity for enrichment all across the academic spectrum, both in school and in life. In short, classics are neither dying nor dead, and never have been; rather, they are more crucial to and more deeply imbued in society than they have been since the Classical Age.